As we enter May, we enter what is normally a time for celebration around Durango – event season begins, Fort Lewis graduation occurs and almost every weekend there are multiple happenings around town.
Tourism season starts, and the streets are filled with visitors shopping from business to business down Main Avenue before heading off on the train or some other local adventure.
Many of us are missing these normal ways to gather and celebrate the town we love.
But some of the disruptions occurring because of COVID-19 are creating surprisingly positive changes – if you know where to look for them.
Because of COVID-19, online graduations are allowing family members and friends to participate and join in around the world. Doctoral dissertations, typically closed-door events, are being livestreamed, allowing for family and friends to listen in on the actual arguments for the first time. Educational courses and training programs previously only offered in person are being moved to online platforms that anyone in the world can access.
The U.S. Supreme Court is meeting virtually, and for the first time ever, the proceedings are open to the public. At a local level, we have been lucky to have City Council meetings recorded for some time, but now a majority of the public is home and able to engage in these meetings. Barriers across different socioeconomic, racial and age groups are being reduced in ways that they never have before.
While we’ve seen many of our local, independent businesses struggle, many are also choosing to overcome and adapt. Local businesses are modifying their business models by creating online ordering systems, tapping into their social media platforms, and optimizing their website SEO to reach wider markets. Some small businesses are doing this so successfully that, collectively, they’ve managed to take a slice out of Amazon’s sales (as reported by The Washington Post) and to get some much-needed technological updates along the way.
We are seeing the city and county respond to business needs with code enforcement relaxation and creative ideas, like allowing businesses to use the parking spaces in front of their businesses for additional seating. Our local nonprofits and economic development organizations are working more collaboratively than ever, and Local First is personally excited to share our Local Futures Program, supported by our partners, as a way you can help businesses reopen. We are seeing our community continue to rally behind our businesses and health care workers, making free personal protection equipment and supporting local whenever possible, not as an afterthought.
As we are forced to adapt to the new “normal” established by COVID-19, we are seeing public processes open up, access to resources increase for many and local businesses adapt. We are seeing the community pour support into our local economy and understand that when you buy local, you’re not only supporting local business owners – you’re supporting their staff, necessary city services from police officers to sidewalks, and all the secondary businesses they rely on, like local payroll services and cleaning staff.
While we can hope that next May things will look very different for our community and parts of our old normal can return (Iron Horse, I’m looking at you!), let’s make sure that our vision for Durango includes some of these new, improved changes as well. Let’s make sure that we always think Local First, in both good times and bad.
Kiki Hooton is managing director of Local First in Durango. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.